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Grad Shool Application Anticipation

May 10, 2009

So on Monday the application committee will begin reviewing the prospective grad students and handing out recommendations which, in perfect bureaucratic symmetry, are considered both binding and mere suggestions, depending on which office you talk to. From what I gather, if the poli sci department recommends me for admission, I’m golden. And now I wait…

While I wait, there’s plenty to do, including figuring out how to trick myself into asking that cute girl in film class out. Why can’t I be free to hate the world and everyone in it in peace? Why must I keep developing crushes? And I’ve got to keep looking for a job. People are still hiring these days; the problem is that I’m always but one of hundreds begging for the job.

And then there’s all that other stuff. that stuff that is huge and important and life-altering that I cannot talk about here. Not yet, anyhow.

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I Am Artist, Hear Me Congratulate Self!

March 25, 2009

I was reading up on RaceFail09 earlier today, and I started following links and Google hits and somehow it got me to Alas, a Blog, which got me to Aaru Tuesday, and somewhere along the way I found the Bechdel Rule and the Miller Test and a great rant decrying the fact that a straight white guy is seen as the default hero in our fiction. It was one of those pieces where it doesn’t say things you haven’t heard or don’t already know, but says it in a way that forces me to acknowledge the truth in a way I hadn’t before.

And I realized that my book, which I have so carefully constructed for the better part of a year, fails on the basic level of not being about a straight white guy who swoops in to save the queers from the problems they can’t solve for themselves. For extra bonus points, I made the murderous bigotry merely the backdrop for my hero’s emotional journey, and his sidekicks facilitators for the same.

And furthermore, I realized that this manuscript, as currently constructed cannot be saved. But that’s okay, because I was already dreaming of the sequel, and I’ve now decided to toss Disposable Heroes and move straight to what was origonally the followup effort.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the new idea, because that would easily spawn 10 pages of self-indugent shit, but I will say that it is much better for allowing the plot and action to flow naturally from the character relations, and that I’ve basically given up trying to pretend that my favorate characters are not in some way self-insertions.

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Christianity vs. Paganism: Which is Better?

March 5, 2009

I want to state up front that I am an atheist of the kind that feels comfortable affirmatively stating that there is no god. I do not believe in spirits, souls, angels, demons, or any of that crap. Same deal with magic and “magick,” which contrary to popular opinion in some circles is not made more potent or impressive by the addition of a “k” at the end. Any sentence relating to the healing powers of crystals makes me skip right over the article.

But if I had to choose a religion, and we’re talking gun-t0-the-head pressure here,  my two real options would be Christianity or Paganism. The first is a viable option because Christianity has been drilled into my head since I was an infant, so it’s a more comfortable set of meaningless superstitions for me to adhere to than say, Judaism or Hindu. And the second is an option because, as religious symbols go, it doesn’t get much more bitchin’ than a pentagram. 

Christianity, as best I understand it, can be generally summarized as:

There is a god. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent. He created the Universe and everything in it, for a purpose that he refuses to explain. Perhaps doing so would spoil the surprise. This god, in his omnibenevolence, decided to create a race of people who rape and murder each other on a regular basis. He does not tell us why he allows this to continue, but assures us that it is all part of his plan and he loves all of us. Even the murderous rapists. Or something.  This god sent his son, who was also himself, but not really, down to earth to become a political dissident and get executed by the Roman Empire, and this somehow sets the stage for our redemption. This redemption is needed, because any failure to request it through the proper channel (accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior) is grounds for being sentenced to an eternity of torment by the omnibonevolent and infinitely forgiving god who rules over us.  A desire to stand and be judged on our own merits and our own faults, without the thumb of Jesus on the scale is, depending on who in the faith you ask, misguided, foolhardy, arrogant, brave, or exactly what is required. In some denominations, people born before Jesus’ arrival are SOL, as are people born in parts of the world where Christianity does not have enough freedom of operation to explain the contract to everyone involved. In other denominations, it doesn’t really matter one way or the other, because Heaven’s guest list is already finalized and we’re all living out a meaningless farce. And common among many, many denominations is the implicit understanding that Thou Shalt Not Kill does not apply to your behavior if your government issues you a waiver. 

Paganism, as best I understand it, can be generally summarized as:

Nature is a powerful force that shapes our world. Sometimes nature is friendly, sometimes nature is cruel. We need nature, but nature does not need us. For these reasons and more, we must respect nature, and afford it a place of honor and worship. It is acceptable and encouraged to value our own lives and joy, but we must never assign a human life an infinitely higher value than any other life, as all living things are holy. There are many variations and subbranches of modern paganism, but in general, they tend to agree with the above statements.

 

Maybe I’m mistaken about the positions of these two religions, and if I am, feel free to correct me. But as far as I can tell, Pagans beat the snot out of Christians as far as internal consistency and correlation to observable reality is concerned. So victory: Pagans! It’s not even close.

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Shorter Gov. Jindal:

February 24, 2009

“We need Democrats and Republicans to come together, consider all the options, and then work in a bi-partisan fashion to do whatever the GOP wants.”

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Self-Education

February 24, 2009

I’m working on this short story featuring Lydia, a supporting character from Disposable Heroes, the manuscript I’m working on. Lydia originally started as little more than a piece of furniture; the book opens with a funeral, and what’s a funeral without a grieving widow? So Lydia’s at the funeral, and Zack (the protagonist) tries to talk to her and she bitches him out for getting her husband killed. From that start, she caught my imagination and started percolating in the back of my mind.

From very early on in the creative process, I had in mind this idea that in the sequel, Zack would be a minor supporting character, and that I wanted one of the minor characters from the first book to take center stage. Lydia was an obvious candidate for this treatment, so I started developing her in earnest.

As part of this process, I wrote a couple vignettes to help find her voice, and then I started work on a full short story about her. I wasn’t looking for an educational experience here, I was just messing around with a character I liked.

In the vignettes I had written her from Zack’s perspective. But when I sat down to write the short story, I wanted to do it from her perspective. And I did, and she stopped being Lydia, or at least the Lydia that I wanted her to be. Her insecurities, such as they are, were more prominent than I wanted them. Her lack of professionalism was glaring rather than hinted. Her aristocratic arrogance proved to be less effective the more it was shown, which is a problem because her notions of class are some of the primary ideas she uses to make sense of the world. It was also hard to let the reader see clearly what she looked like to the people around her: a young, ambitious officer with bags of charm, a fondness for theatricality, and a preference for spending her spare time alone. From the inside, she’s much less interesting, much less dynamic. Her actions lose their edge of unpredictability and surprise.

I’ve done this kind of split between what a character feels and what the show to the world before; Zack’s character is built on this, so I know it can be done. What makes Zack interesting to me is that we see, in detail, the contradiction between the face he shows the world and what’s happening inside him. But what makes Lydia interesting is that we get the idea that her persona is a mask, but we don’t know what she’s hiding.

When she’s the viewpoint character, all the things she tries to keep hidden from the world show up. I could go the route of simply not mentioning these things, there’s a danger of getting too cute with the smoke and mirrors there, and the readers may feel manipulated if I am obviously keeping things from them. Or, they may feel that she is too much the cipher, that I play her cards too close to the vest for her to be a compelling viewpoint character.

For her to work as a viewpoint character, I’d have to strip out most of her interiority, and describe the action as a camera would see it. Not coincidentally, I’m rewriting the story as a screenplay. I may go back and try to write it as “screen prose,” if that makes sense.

While I was struggling with this, I was confronting some of these issues for the first time. And I was learning in the process. I didn’t mean to, honest. I hadn’t sat down and figured out why Lydia interested me until I grappled with why she wasn’t working. So I taught myself how to analyze characters better, and now I’m a stronger writer. And I did this simply through practice and reflection. It’s fun when that happens.

Another example: Lydia and her mother have a big fight about Lydia’s decision to join the Army. I had this bit of dialogue I’d conceived of before I sat down to write out the scene, two short sentences that carried all the weight of their hypocrisy and were crucial to understanding Lydia’s motivations and emotional journey. But when I wrote out their fight the first time, I couldn’t find a place to insert these two lines. The flow of their dialogue happened so quickly and so strongly that it seemed like they were moving the scene along without me. I re-read the section over and over, and eventually I realized that I hadn’t been making a distinction between Lydia reacting to what her mother said and Lydia making an affirmative statement that moved the conversation along and forced her mother to react in turn (In this context, even ignoring the last thing the other person said is a reaction that carries meaning). Once I realized that, I understood that I could choose which character had the “initiative” and was directing the flow of the conversation, and then it was a simple matter of making room for what I wanted the characters to say.

It is very satisfying to get to a point where your skills are advanced enough that you can improve them yourself, without outside guidance. I don’t read books or articles about writing anymore, because they all tell me things I’ve seen before. I’m not a master by any definition, but now the best teacher for me is the work itself. It’s all very Zen.

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Birth of a Meme? Please?

February 3, 2009

I have introduced a new phrase to the Internet via real-world interaction. Go forth, and make “The Cave of Naked Boomers” a meme.

Oh yeah, and there’s also a Q&A with the writer of the recent BSG episode “The Oath” in there, too.

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Arctic Doom!

December 20, 2008

It’s been snowing for 11 hours now. Most of the snow from the last storm had melted by late yesterday, but now there’s at least 5 inches on the ground outside my apartment. The temperature has been struggling to get above freezing for a week now, and it looks like we’ve got at least another week to go. Right now it’s maybe 16 or 17 degrees outside.

I was going to get together with Dad’s side of the family for Christmas, but he’s snowed in at his girlfriend’s place. A quick look at the radar maps confirms that he is indeed getting the shit kicked out of him.

I was amused by how much the local news was freaking out about the weather before, but another week of this and I might start getting concerned. As long as my electricity holds out, I’ll be fine. But if it fails I’m going to need to find someplace else to sleep for the duration of the storm.